Saturday, September 13, 2008

Game Report: Lions vs. Fighters - Walk Like a Salaryman

It's all my fault. I accidentally cursed Brian Sweeney on Thursday's game. First, by my attending a game at the Seibu Dome at all, and second, by cheering for him in English during his warmup. The Fighters lost 5-3 and I'm to blame. I'm sure of it.

But, let me back up a second.

I took a day off from work on September 11th so I could attend the final Fighters game in the Kanto region for 2008. I suppose there's a chance they could come back for a playoff game, and given that right now the Pacific League is in a state of "Get to .500, go to the postseason!", it's quite possible, but even so, I don't think I can count on such a thing. I went to my first 2008 Fighters game in Kanto during the preseason on March 12, and so almost exactly 6 months later, here we are. What a long, strange trip it's been.

I arrived at the Seibu Dome around 4:30pm, got my ticket (thanks to my wonderful Lions staff friend Masanori) and didn't write anything mean on the big Lions fan-message poster that people were signing:

Went into the Dome, walked through the outfield benches, and... saw a bunch of familiar faces sitting there, in the Fighters gang. They waved. I bowed. I came over and asked if they could spare me some bench, and sure enough, they did, so I threw down all of my Fighters cheering goods, put on my Hokkaido jersey and towel and wristbands and stuff and ran down to the field to see if I could find any American pitchers to harrass. I couldn't, but I did do a double-take a few times when I saw a certain guy walk by with a buzzcut hairstyle...

Yeah, that's Darvish. He looks pretty wacky now -- something about his tall skinny build with a buzzcut is just surreal.

I couldn't find any foreign pitchers in the outfield to harrass, unless you count Kazuhito Tadano, which I don't. I wandered to the infield and saw Ryan Glynn and Micheal Nakamura by the dugout, but didn't think it was a good idea to yell anything. Ran into Two-Camera Lady, who was furiously shooting photos of Shugo Fujii, who was warming up in the bullpen. I was surprised because I was pretty sure Fujii was still at ni-gun, but whatever.

Went back to the outfield. Ate food. Talked to people a bit. Saw John Gibson from the Daily Yomiuri walking out and wandered over to chat with him for a while. (He's awesome. He said, "You look like ONE OF THEM!", to which I retorted, "I AM one of them!")

Headed back to the infield to try to see Sweeney warming up around 5:30. I was harrassed by an usher for trying to take a picture through the bullpen net, and then for simply STANDING next to the bullpen. Eventually I was joined by the College Guys, one of whom was holding up his Sweeney jersey. We sat in the front row peacefully, if not quietly, lest we risk the ire of that usher again. They were yelling "Good luck, Brian!" in Japanese, so they said to me, "You're the English teacher, go cheer for him in English!!" So I did. I yelled some "Come on Brian, you can do it! it's the last game in Tokyo! Go kick ass out there!" and stuff like that. I think Brian acknowledged us as general cheerers though I don't know if he realized it was Crazy Blog Girl out there or not.

After the national anthem (yes -- it was September 11th and I was in Japan listening to Kimigayo before a baseball game) the usher told us to get to our seats, so we did.

Brian Sweeney, the "blue-eyed Samurai".

Sweeney stands with Fighters pitching coach Masato Yoshii, during the national anthem.

My view from the benches atop the rightfield stands.

We got back to the stands just in time for the game to start. I reached for my Hichori microphone and the guy next to me said, "Nono, Kensuke is first." Somehow I had totally not realized that when we cheered the lineups earlier, but yes, infact, Kensuke Tanaka WAS leading off. The starting lineups were:

Fighters Lions
-------- -----
Kensuke 2B Kataoka 2B
Hichori CF Kuriyama LF
Inaba! DH Nakajima SS
Shinji C Etoh "DH"
Sledge 1B Yoshihito Ishii 1B
Itoi RF Okawari-kun 3B
Koyano 3B Ohshima? RF
Kudoh LF Hosokawa grrrrr
Kaneko! SS Akada CF

Sweeney (11-3, 3.12) Wakui (8-9, 3.35)

Kensuke led off with a double to right, and then when Hichori, batting second, was supposed to sac bunt him up (which makes me think Kensuke was probably like "This is revenge for the last three years of ME HAVING TO SAC BUNT YOU UP HAHAHAHA"), Hichori bunted to the pitcher, and Wakui threw out Kensuke sliding into third. Doh! Fail! But then Inaba hit a to center and Hichori scored on it anyway (I thought he'd be out, but I forgot how fast he is). 1-0.

The Lions also led off with a hit, Kataoka singling to center. He stole second during Kuriyama's at-bat and then moved to third when Kuriyama grounded out... and then stayed there for a while. Nakajima walked, and Etoh walked (though Etoh's first pitch was a TOWERING foul ball which Takahito Kudoh ran ran ran to the bullpen wall and CAUGHT the ball as he hit the wall... but the ball bounced out. Too bad), so the bases were loaded. I was saying to the College Guys, "Crap, it's all my fault for cheering Sweeney in English, now he's having bad luck. Argh!" Yoshihito Ishii grounded to the mound, and Sweeney threw home for the force on Kataoka, but they didn't complete the double play at first, so when he ALSO walked Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, that was a tying run. 1-1. Erk. Walking in a run can NEVER lead to good things.

Yoshio Itoi doubled to lead off the top of the second, and moved to third on a sac bunt by Koyano, and then Kudoh tried a crazy suicide squeeze bunt, which bounced high and so Itoi scored. 2-1.

And well, that would unfortunately be it for the Fighters for quite a while. The Lions added a run in the 3rd, another run in the 5th when Akira Etoh hit a home run, and then Yasuyuki Kataoka hit a 2-run homer in the 6th which knocked Sweeney out of the game, making it 5-2.

There was a bit of a scary collision in the top of the 5th, actually; Inaba hit a huge towering fly ball to left-center, and both centerfielder Shogo Akada and leftfielder Takumi Kuriyama ran in for it, and I don't know if they didn't hear each other calling for it, couldn't stop, or what, but they pretty much ran straight into each other after Akada caught the ball. It didn't look THAT bad though; I've seen some nasty collisions and this one was just kind of a mistake, not a catastrophe. Both of them came out of it walking and talking and not carried off the field or anything, so that was good.

Anyway, after Sweeney, Miyanishi and Hisashi and Kikuchi all pitched for the Fighters and kept the Lions scoreless, but it didn't make much of a difference as Wakui went 8 innings and the only other run he allowed was a home run to Shinji Takahashi in the 8th, so the Lions won 5-3, Alex Graman getting the save. Yasuyuki Kataoka was the game hero and he was like "It's been a DAMN long time since I've been up here for a home run!"

It was a little bit somber being a Fighters fan after the first few innings, though, because the Fighters kept going down 1-2-3. Also, I found that my inflatable Kensuke hand had a puncture in it, which also sucked. I spent a bunch of time going up talking to my new best friends, the other Scorecard Posse. Everyone thought it was so funny that the three of us were sitting there writing scorecards, that I insisted on having a picture taken. Heh.

But, yeah, there was no final Inaba jump, no chance music at ALL for our side, and what was weirdest of all, when Jason Botts came up we didn't even do the Seibu Dome Botts cheer song.

That doesn't mean I had a bad time though. I got to see a lot of people and hang out, watch baseball, and just enjoy the feeling of being at a Fighters game, which in itself is usually worth it for me. I'm a little sad that I probably won't see most of these folks for 6 months or so (a few of us are all going to Osaka next weekend), but I guess that's why we call these our "summer families".

The funny thing is, the "summer family" concept seems to go a lot further here in Japan. From my perspective, for a long time, I thought that most of the groups of people who get together and cheer together at the games were big close-knit groups of friends who came to the game together, but I rode home on the train with my friend Sakamoto and he explained that no, not really, it's just that when you cheer for a team like the Fighters, especially in their Tokyo Dome days, it wasn't that hard to get to know all of the regulars because there just WEREN'T that many regulars. Like, he can't even remember the names of most of the people who he cheers with, but he's been cheering with them so long that it doesn't matter. Yeah, some people do know each other outside of baseball; but it's more like small atomic units of families or same-college or somesuch. Kind of like when we all went drinking after the Fighters game in Sendai, and I thought it was one big gang, but it turned out most of them had never met before.

At any rate, it's a little bittersweet for me that at the same time I'm finally starting to feel like I have a "summer family", the baseball season is ending. Alas.

There was a kind of funky post-game ritual, due to this being the last Fighters game in Kanto this year, where all of us in the cheering section gathered down at the bottom and basically saluted the Lions ouendan, doing a cheer of "good luck Lions!" and then they saluted us too similarly.

And after the game, Seibu was having another one of their Salaryman Night events, and I had been told that there would be fun catch-ball and fielding practice going on, but there was a really long line for it and I was pretty tired by the end of the game, plus I didn't have a glove with me. I heard that Mr. Takagi was hitting grounders to people though, and it would have been fun to try, I suppose. Maybe some other day.

They were also selling "Salaryman Bento" and Salaryman tea:

I do think it's kind of difficult to cater to the typical office worker in Japan, though, for baseball stuff. The game starting at 6pm is difficult, but if it was later there might be last-train issues. But coming to Tokorozawa from downtown Tokyo is really difficult, so naturally people arrive late. I dunno, though, it is a good idea for an event promotion, but I think what's still killing Seibu in terms of attendance is their location. It's certainly not their team, which is continuing to destroy the rest of the league.

And yeah, in the last three years I have still NEVER been to a game at the Seibu Dome where 1) they didn't win and 2) they didn't hit at least one home run. Really, the Lions ought to just stuff me into a huge omamori and hang me from the dome ceiling or something, at this rate.

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